The Clay Bird
Directed by Tareque Masud
April 30 through May 13 Anthology
Much of documentarian Tareque Masud’s impressive first fiction feature derives from his own childhood experiences as a student in an Islamic religious school. Family divisions reflect a cultural clash between moderate and extremist views in this humanist drama, set in the buildup to the brutal 1971 civil war from which East Pakistan emerged as Bangladesh. When his zealot father discovers that he has attended Hindu festivities with his liberal intellectual uncle, young Anu (Nurul Islam Bablu) is sent to a strict madrassa school. Ostracized by most of the students, he bonds with Rokon, an oddball orphan. Anu returns to his village when the Pakistani military begins a crackdown on the Bangladeshi freedom movement—the family’s house is destroyed and they must flee the region to stay alive.
Acclaimed at Cannes, The Clay Bird was first banned by the Dhaka government for “religiously sensitive” material, and released in Bangladesh only after cuts had been made. But the film’s critique of Islam is offered without rancor, and it’s evident that Masud loves all his characters, whatever their viewpoints. Like Satyajit Ray, Masud makes excellent use of Bengali folk music, and throughout, The Clay Bird recalls the empathy for childhood’s innocence and lust for living—as well as the visual rapture and naturalness—of Ray’s great Pather Panchali. Elliott Stein
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Opens April 30, Quad
Madrid’s gay ghetto, as depicted in Bulgarian Lovers, is crawling with studly Eastern Bloc immigrants conspiring to trick a living out of Spanish sugar daddies. Plunging in headfirst, self-described old-school gentleman Daniel (Fernando Guillén Cuervo) gets fucked, then fucked over. He ignores the jealous/xenophobic warnings of the obligatory screaming-queen best friend (Pepón Nieto) and falls heels behind head in love with laconic hunk Kyril (Dritan Biba). At best, what we have is a failure to communicate, evinced by the Bulgarian custom of nodding to mean no and shaking heads for the affirmative. At worst, spineless Daniel knowingly allows himself to be manipulated—fixing not only Kyril’s visa, but also that of Kyril’s fiancée—and letting them implicate him in their shady business deals. Daniel begs directly to the camera for our sympathy. We’d gladly give ourselves over to the literate if chatty script and the generous helpings of Bulgarian beefcake, but our interest flags the moment Biba puts his clothes back on. Jorge Morales